Fashion in dance; when cultures collide

Fashion and dance are two of my main passions and it seems that the two arts overlap more than I thought.

For many years, designers have been commissioned to create costumes for dance companies and dance works. Costumes are the icing on the cake when it comes to a performance and they can be used to help tell a story, create a mood or to enhance the dancer’s body and lines on stage. This partnership between designers and dance companies is nothing new however. Coco Chanel created costumes for the Ballet Russes at the start of the 20th century; costumes that went on to inspire the work of other designers such a s Yves Saint Laurent.

Jean Paul Gaultier has had a lot of experience with creating costumes for dance. He has designed all of the costumes for performances choreographed by Régine Chopinot from 1983-93 and more recently, Gaultier designed costumes for the German cabaret show; “The One- Grand Show”. For this production Gaultier produced and designed over 500 costumes for the 100 strong cast.  The costumes clearly radiated Gaultier’s signature style with elements such as underwear as outwear and sailor tops making an appearance.

New York City Ballet are a dance company that have benefited from many designer partnerships including with Valentino who designed a red ballgown for the work ‘Sophisticated Lady’, choreographed in 1988 by Peter Martins.

Valentino Sophisticated Lady NYC ballet

Iris Van Herpen, famous for her architectural and structural inspired fashion creations, produced a costume for ‘Neverwhere’. The piece by Benjamin Millepied at New York City ballet featured costumes that radiated Herpen’s signature style. Her use of the colour black and leather like materials offers a contrast to the ballet world; a world which is often filled with tiaras, powder pink, lilac and lavish embellishment and beading.

New York City Ballet. Credit Photo: Erin Baiano

Rodarte is also included on the list of designers to work with the New York City ballet. The fashion brand created the costumes for the Benjamin Millepied piece ‘Two Hearts’. The black and white pared down costumes for this piece were designed with the dancers in mind; the simple design ensures that the audience’s focus is on the dancers; there is no elaborate costume to distract them.


Dance has also directly influenced designers over the years. Take Christian Dior’s 1949 ‘Cygne Noir’ dress; inspired by the Black Swan Odile from Tchaikovsky’s famous ballet, Swan Lake.

Christian DIor black swan gown

More recently, we have seen dance as an art form influencing not only the clothes that designers produce but also the way that designers present their work. For Paul Smith’s Autumn Winter 17 collection, PS by Paul Smith, we saw dancers and gymnasts used to demonstrate the functional aspects of the clothing.

“The pieces we chose to focus on had functions like shower resistant, wind defence and added durability. It made sense to show these clothes in a more dynamic way than on mannequins or models walking down a catwalk.”

“It’s about showing that the clothes are made for modern people who want to be able to live their lives in their clothes, not be constrained by them.”- Paul Smith talking about his new collection.

Paul Smith Men's Fall 2017Paul Smith Men's Fall 2017

With the trend for staying healthy and active on the increase and dance becoming an ever popular way to keep fit; I’m intrigued to see how else fashion and dance will come together in the future.

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